Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Their mortal anxieties captured in a picture

June 13, 2023

In a Psychiatrist cartoon by Oren Bernstein in the New Yorker of 6/12/23:

(#1) The patient flopped on the therapeutic couch is a despondent octopus [6/14: oh dear, apparently a squid rather than an octopus; later on 6/14: not exactly a squid either (see comments) — so an OSB cephalopod, of a previously unreported species]; the analyst has presented the cephalopod with  a Rorschach inkblot (designed as a projective psychological test), which has aroused the patient’s deepest fears, of fleeing the pursuit of death

I know, you don’t see the savagery of an attacking shark, but then you’re not an octopus [or squid].


The Threat Illusion

May 26, 2022

More from the annals of selective attention and confirmation bias, now in the journal Psychological Science.

The umbrella phenomenon is the Frequency Illusion: if your attention is drawn to some phenomenon, it’s likely to appear to you to be very frequent, all around you. Then in the special case of the Out-Group Illusion, in which your attention is drawn to a phenomenon associated with a group you don’t belong to (which then appears to you to be characteristic of that group and especially frequent there). Now in the even more special case of what I’ll call the Threat Illusion, in which your attention is keenly drawn to a phenomenon associated with an out-group you perceive as being threatening to you (which then appears to be not only characteristic of that group but extraordinarily frequent there).

A Frequency Illusion cartoon (under the more colorful label of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, a name based on one example of the effect, the sudden omnipresence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s name):


Zippyphrases 2

March 11, 2022

Some riffing on yesterday’s posting “Catchphrases for sale”, about this Zippy strip:

(#1) Offering fresh phrases — not already in circulation as catchphrases, sayings, proverbs, slogans, famous quotations, well-known names and titles, and the like — chosen at random

Zippy’s fresh phrases sound like catchphrases — roughly, free-standing expressions that you recognize as coming from a stock of quotations widely known in your culture, which then (if you wish) can be conventionally used to make some point — but are in fact novel. The things called catchphrases are then exquisitely embedded in particular cultures (note: “widely known in your culture” and also “can be conventionally used”).


A sensitive young man

February 8, 2022

From my 1/23/22 posting “Sexy Italians”, about a Pinterest offering of a 1900 painting Italian Man with a Rope by John Singer Sargent:

meanwhile, Pinterest also offered me a Sargent portrait of a sensitive young man, the pianist and composer Léon Delafosse

(#1) Léon Delafosse by Sargent (1895); the fingers! the fingers! (on his face, see Ernest Schelling in #2 below)

Notes on “sensitive” masculinity in the arts — variously characterized as delicate, elegant, Romantic, artistic, feminine, and the like — as seen in Sargent’s works. On Delafosse specifically. On Sargent’s relationship to Isabella Stewart Gardner; and about her life and the museum she founded in Boston. And then on appropriations of the sensitivity label in current pop psychology.


Bug on the couch

October 24, 2021

The 10/23 Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, a Psychiatrist cartoon, with a bug — specifically, a mosquito — on the couch (Wayno’s title: “Interspecies therapy”):

(#1) Consider the mosquito, how it grieves (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 8 (an unusually large number) in this strip — see this Page.)

Not just the Psychiatrist meme (with all of its conventions), but also:

— the intersection of the human world (in which people go to therapists) and the insect world (in which mosquitoes have six legs, antennae, compound eyes, and proboscises)

— the bug-on-windshield trope

— Rorschach ink blots, as used by clinical psychologists

— autopsy photos

— fatal polytrauma, such as sometimes occurs in car crashes

Fully appreciating the cartoon then calls on a wide range of knowledge, both factual and cultural. I’ll take for granted here the (extensive) conventions of the Psychiatrist meme and go on to the rest.


Rorschach v. Magritte

January 10, 2021

Today’s Bizarro pits the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach against the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 12 in this strip — see this Page.)

In addition to these 12, there’s a green apple in honor of Magritte (from his 1964 painting The Son of Man), plus what appears to be the Maltese Falcon, the statue from Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel (and the famous 1941 movie made from it). Plus, of course, the inkblots. In any case, it’s all deeply symbolic.


Are you 79½ or 80?

August 15, 2020

I’m a few weeks away from my 80th birthday, which turns out to be a cultural watershed of sorts — the dividing line between being “in your 70s” and “in your 80s’, which is definitely old age. But that doesn’t actually make a lot of sense: the decades according to the calendar correspond to no natural physiological milestones, especially not ones so very sharply delineated. One period of life shades into another, with relatively long transitions.

The matter isn’t just theoretical, but of great practical significance, as detailed at some length in the New York Times on-line on 2/20/20, in “The Upshot: How Common Mental Shortcuts Can Cause Major Physician Errors: Tendencies like left-digit bias can have life-altering consequences for patients” by Anupam B. Jena & Andrew R.Olenski (in the print edition on 2/21, under the title “Are you 79½ or 80? Your Doctor’s View May be Life-Altering”):


Chaka Khan and post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought

July 31, 2020

Margalit Fox on Facebook on the 29th:

Time to get my hearing checked. This evening’s dialogue:

Husband: “Jacques Lacan is the thinker who merged post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought with Structuralism.”

Me: “Chaka Khan merged post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought with Structuralism?? …”

Jacques Lacan / Chaka Khan — some phonological similarity (same accentual pattern, shared medial /k/ and final /n/, initial /ǰ/ vs. /č/, differing only in voicing, vowels similar but not calculable here because of dialect differences in their quality), but then there’s /l/ vs. /k/), but largely the connection is through their being two relatively exotic proper names of cultural significance.


Pavlov’s novelist

June 16, 2020

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro collabo, with a groaner pun on the name F. Scott Fitzgerald (the American writer) plus an instance of the Pavlov cartoon meme:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

The pun is straightforward (it does depend on your recognizing Spot as a conventional name for dogs in English); but though Pavlov isn’t mentioned in the cartoon, it’s all about classical, or Pavlovian, conditioning, and the cartoon makes no sense unless you recognize the allusion to Pavlov, and also recall that Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate (and expect food) on hearing a bell ringing (here, the carriage return bell on a typewriter, which younger readers will be unfamiliar with, typewriters being an obsolete technology — but the cartoon helpfully fills in this bit of typewriter arcana).


Where your personalities go when you’re having sex

February 27, 2020

Will McPhail (in a New Yorker “Daily Shouts” piece on 7/1/18) thinks they socialize pleasantly with one another — have a coffee together, play pingpong, eat hot dogs, shoot some hoops — while speculating wryly about how you’re managing without them and fretting poignantly about when they can get back to helping you through your lives.

All about sex, but with two feet as the only bodyparts depicted and the verb bounce as the only sexually tinged vocabulary. Unfolding in a cartoon of ten gentle, unhurried panels featuring two wraith-like personalities, one blue-green, one red-purple.

(After the McPhail I’ll write a bit about sexual ecstasy as an altered state of consciousness, with a link to some decidedly hard-core writing about sex at the gay baths, but with no actual raunch here.)